Working within the WW2 community has given me a great insight into how hard people work, to portray their hobby, here are some of my humble ramblings.

Friday, 19 August 2011

A Chat With Malcolm Dunlop

All of you who have watched the iconic 1970s movie Kelly’s Heroes will instantly recall the plotline in which American troopers, led by a character played by Clint Eastwood, learn of a spot where millions of dollars’ worth of gold bullion is highly guarded behind a crack unit of German panzer troops and three Tiger tanks. Although this film clearly depicts the horrors of war, it also brings a humourous, almost carefree element to the proceedings with some very unusual characters.  This serious-yet-fun approach also characterizes Malcolm Dunlop, who --  for those of you who do not know him -- has imbedded his own personal WWII roots in military vehicle preservation and re-enacting for nearly 15 years.
Malcolm’s office is a living scrapbook of his adventures throughout this community.  He and his wife Gabi have given much time and energy into moving the hobby forward through the IMPS (Invicta Military Vehicle Preservation Society), of which they have been active members for 12 years.
Fascination for all things WWII was inevitable for Malcolm as he was raised in a military family, his father having served in the deserts of Africa and other family members having also served post-WWII.  Malcolm’s interest intensified after his first Jeep purchase, as he took it to the Sellinge Steam Engine Rally in May 1997 and won Best in Show.  From then on, he was hooked and formed a close association with the IMPS.  When he recollects watching the early WWII documentaries and war films with his father, Malcolm’s eyes gleam.  It was this ongoing passion which inspired him to found the group “Kelly’s Heroes,” depicting the 2nd Armored, 502 Military Police company, and to transform his prizewinning Jeep into the impressive American combat vehicle you see today.
Although Malcolm recently retired from his role as Vice Chairman of the Committee, his passion has not waned in the slightest.  He and his family take an active role in the War and Peace Show, where (amongst many other responsibilities) he manages – and stages highly explosive, crowd-pleasing battle re-enactments at -- the camp known as The Swamp.  
“We aim to base the experiences the public will see on famous war movies, or battles,” he says.  “These are intense twenty minute  scenarios, where we work closely with re-enactment groups such as the second Battle Group, Kompanie 1 and the Stahlkriegers.  The mix we think of is Hollywood and realism -- we provide the tanks, guns and uniforms, as this really gives the crowd an excellent spectacle.”  I ask Malcolm if he has ever had any close shaves with safety on his battle arenas. “The only real close shave we have had was when I forgot to fill my son Michael’s blood squib, which when it went off, took a fair chunk of his uniform with it!”
The WWII battle here at Combined OPS will also be filled with the same enthusiasm and passion, with many armoured vehicles, tanks, explosions and theatrical performances from many old faces on the circuit. “We do have our three apprentices this year,” comments Malcolm.  “We have three youngsters in the group around 15 and 16 years of age, Chris, Jack and James, who really bring a youthful element to our group, and are very enthusiastic.  We hope to have them in the group for a long time to come.”  And what of the family element?  Well, Malcolm clearly explains that many of the wives and girlfriends not only come to the events but also actively participate in them. “We open our battles to all ages, male and female-- it’s a family hobby.”

For more information, visit thekellysheroes@aol.com
To read more on Malcolm or more related intevriews please visit www.reenactingww2.co.uk and subsribe today!  

Monday, 20 June 2011

Fantastic Backdrops

Fantastic Backdrops
The industrial revolution in England brought about many changes that were essential in the countries growth, James Watt noticeably added his own expertise when it came to designing the steam engine, roll on a few years to the early 1800’s and this power was utilised in the first ever steam locomotive, George Stephenson watched with awe this new technology and improved the early designs, to bring a new world order of commercial transport, his designs transformed these huge steam wielding beasts, and in 1825 saw Stephenson build locomotives for the Stockton and Darlington Railway essentially the United Kingdom's first public railway.
The age of steam is for the most part but a mere memory, as the advancement of design to find more fuel efficient means of transportation was necessary, although I am sure I did read earlier this year that the railway companies, have now decided to put some of their rolling stock, back to Diesel Loco's, owing to the current economical climate, the old adage ‘they don’t build ‘em like they used to’ comes to mind.
Heritage sites and a passionate volunteers have brought back the Locomotives of yesteryear, and with grants, fund-raising and dedication, have ensured that people like you and me, are able to marvel at these ferocious yet beautiful marvels of design, the smell, sounds and sight is enough to stir any soul, whether you can remember them the first time around or not!
I had the pleasure in being invited to the Spa Valley Railway last weekend, courtesy of Terry Mosely and Ray Downes who spearheads the Re-enactment group ‘Unsung Heroes’. These fine ladies and gents represent the heroines and heroes who worked an defended the British Isles during WW2, they don’t specialise in elite units, but pure and simply the many facets that were needed to keep this country going, and the civilians that lived here and I must say the variation is very wide, and I for one was very pleased with the diversity and sheer good nature of everyone I met on my travels up and down this picturesque railway.
Taking my first trip of the day from Eridge Station, which I was informed only opened in March of this year to compliment the already existing stations this line has to offer, was an instant trip back in time, where I was invited to go aboard the Home Front Bus parked outside, greeted by Norman and Ed, this bus is pure magic, you are treated to walk through the Living Room, shop, Bombed out Street and an Air Raid Shelter, not quite sure how it all fits on a double decker bus, I was astounded at the diversity of artifacts, information and my two guides brought this fantastic stage to life.
Once in the locomotive the nostalgia overwhelmed me, the rest of the day was spent sampling the other stations including, Groombridge, High Rocks and Tunbridge Wells West.
The best bits? Well the Lindy Hoppers at Groombridge were superb, and the Black Cat Ale, was an added bonus, also bumping into ‘Viv the Spiv’ was simply superb, it’s not everyday you can purchase two bars of chocolate and some back seamed stockings for your loved ones, knowing that you could be caught by the police at any moment!
Terry and his team, also called in great air support, the BBMF flew in along with the Red Arrows, to make a perfect ambience to this great event, other activities and entertainments’ were a 1940s dance in Tunbridge Wells in the evening, bomb disposal, and Fire Crew at the ready for the explosions that followed along the line at various intervals.
My report would not be complete without mentioning some great friends that all helped in creating a family friendly and nostalgic event, The George Patton Society, Monty, IMPS and of course the Unsung Heroes.

A great event and a beautiful backdrop, I can’t wait until 2012!


All images copyright Edon Publishing Ltd 2011

Monday, 7 February 2011

The Rationale


“It’s a funny old hobby.” I was once told by a smiling old gentleman when I first became a re-enactor, “You dress up, pretend to wage war, but you have no idea what it was really like for us.” It was at this point my senses became a little more than acute as he began his tale of being drafted into the British Army and his effective entrance into the war as an infantryman. His tale spurred something in me far deeper than I had actually realised at the time, here I was, cigarette in mouth, sporting the finest repro uniform, very eager to help in my chosen group. Yet these comments alone, inspired me to delve deeper into myself as to why exactly I had chosen this hobby.

Was it to glorify war? That was I openly admit an attraction back in my early days as a re-enactor, remembering how excited I was to wield a blank firing sub-machine gun, crawl through the undergrowth, and surprise the enemy, on many occasions I witnessed true surprise as I emptied a full clip in the general direction of a completely unsuspecting patrol. However all of this is make believe, we don’t really know what it was like, and (I do mean those re-enactors never to have had actual combat experience.)
Did I re-enact to fulfil some crazy fantasy? My parents and loved ones all thought I was a sandwich short of a picnic, my closest friends really did think I had lost the plot. A deep down searching mission was once again born and I just wanted to find out as much information as I could about my chosen portrayal, after all if you want to truly learn as much as you can, you literally jump off at the deep end and experience as much as you can about the subject. Nothing better I thought than to actually immerse myself so deep in something that interested me, so I chose to re-enact.
The Veteran I had been speaking to, was plain speaking and hit some chords in me that I had chosen perhaps to hide, when I first embarked on portraying history to the masses, dressed as a soldier!
As the years passed my involvement in my chosen group grew, and my enthusiasm did not stop there, I was transfixed, on learning more, I had met some great people on my journey, those interested in nothing other than what calibre a rifle was, those who knew how many stitches should be in a tunic and those who were like me, enthralled at the sheer excitement of doing something so completely different to thirst our quest for knowledge on all things WW2.
I do know that the media tries to catch this community out, somehow portraying us as something as an oddity. Various programmes have been televised singling out segments of our community, the obvious Axis powers, is I believe only out of failing producers, seriously in need of attracting audiences from otherwise failed documentaries, and run of the mill, donkey fodder programming.
Some of the general public that attend the shows we display at, can be a ladleful, testing us on our knowledge and trying to catch us out, and lastly our parents and close relatives always in aghast at our pursuit of bringing WWII to life. Well In my case anyway!

So what is your rationale behind this extremely colourful and vast ranging hobby? I know mine, although admittedly it took me a while to work it out, I simply want others to remember what sacrifices others made so we can live in a peaceful and united existence and show to others that ‘dressing up’ is more than a hobby, its deeper than that, everybody I have met has a different reason, perspective and outlook on why they do it.
If you are looking to be a re-enactor, my advice, jump in, there are more than enough groups on the circuit to choose from, get yourself to an event and speak to the many souls that dedicate themselves to re-living the past during WWII.
And next time you see a Veteran, give him all the time that, that day allows, as you may just surprise yourself.

Images copyright Edon Publishing Ltd 2011
Group Featured Spirit Of Britain
Words Stuart Humphrey

Monday, 3 January 2011

Who will you portray this year?

 The questions re-enactors always have to answer to the masses are varied and always very intuitive, on the most part. The seasoned amongst us will always, have many a tale to tell, around the camp fire or NAAFI wagon, about just what line of interrogation they endured whilst on the display stand. For the most part, these questions are in-part, of why we do it. The sheer amount of time we spend in perfecting our own portrayals is astonishing, lets not forget  the amount of money involved !

Years pass and the community evolves, displays grow bigger, the portrayals intensify and the media seems to take the remembrance of the era to a new level, wherever you tune in, radio, television, internet, you will notice that there is a very strong theme running through our media moguls veins.
2010 saw essentially no less than ten celebrities (and these are only the ones I am aware of) taking part in this media hype, I must say the RAF got a fantastic mention, and it appears that unless we had the ‘Spitfire’ and a faithful Labrador at our side, then we should all be speaking German, be 6ft in height and have blue eyes. This clearly isn’t the case so just how important is re-enacting, versus the mass media?

Well there are more events than ever across the world to choose from, based on a wide variety of themes, there are even more private battles and training days too, plus let’s not forget that that WWII didn’t just engulf the common soldier, but also pretty much everybody that didn’t fight too, the fashion scene has exploded, just think of all those ‘White Man Van’ advertisements ten years ago, completing house clearances, just think if they had stockpiled the huge amount of Home front items that were scheduled for the rubbish tip?

Add to this the various special services, the elite units that always attract Film directors in their hordes, that sometimes just over glorify the sacrifices that were made, special effects have again further compounded the image of war, the imagination now for most of us who are too young,  has almost been eradicated, as we can now witness some of the most harrowing images that have ever existed. After all War is no picnic, it’s a race for survival.

So what of 2011? What will you portray this year? Will you be rushing to buy, at one of the popular militaria fairs a brand new set up of a British Commando fatigues, or will you beat a path to your local Oxfam store and take a more humble approach? Chances are if you have been in this hobby a while, you will have a number of uniforms at your disposal, you may even have a various array of   vehicles lined up undercover.

What is the best portrayal to take? And why should you take this path? Where do you get information on your uniforms? What makes you re-enact? What is your motivation to swap 48 hours at the weekend and delve into the past?

These are perhaps questions you can only answer, as for me? Well apart from reading a fanatic amount of books on WW2, I have chosen a new portrayal, to honour my Grandfather, he fought in the BEF. His combat experience lasted around 15 minutes, his internment within the Nazi war machine has lasted his entire lifetime, and if I can just put his story in the hands of just one member of the public and show what that what he did, which was to serve his country and fight for freedom, then I can have the satisfaction that I have now portrayed another role, that continues this hobby in the right direction, something that our educational establishments have a hard time to achieve, to inspire. As without inspiration, the history books will be just that. I’ll be looking forward to snapping my braces into place this year and seeing one or two of you at an event this year.

Words Stuart Humphrey 3rd January 2010 
All imagery and content copyright Edonpublishing Ltd.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Women At War - WACS

With a great focus within our hobby placed fairly squarely on the male portrayal, we sometimes do forget that fact that women played a huge part in shaping our history also, just because they were not generally on the front line, they certainly had a major presence ensuring that the war machine kept running. From volunteers to paid labour, their roles were varied, from farming through to munitions, to the delivery of aircraft to intelligence. The portrayal in our hobby does lend itself to the classic ‘pin up’ the morale booster to the troops that is continued even today in the far reaches of the earth where conflict never seems to stop.
I stumbled upon a website today, whilst the UK decided that once again it could not open for business as we had a few inches of snow, and I wanted to share with you some superb wartime photos of the WACS Women’s Army Corps.

The corps was formed in 1942 and was known as the WAACS, (Women's Army Auxiliary Corps). During the conflict around 15,200 women served within these Corps and provided a number of roles to support the war effort.

This was not without opposition and after some research it was evident that men were very against women in uniform, not surprisingly so owing to the other attitudes and prejudices against women in general at the time, however owing to the sheer shortage of manpower, not an intended pun, but the army needed to make some very serious decisions in order to fulfill a variety of roles within its ranks.
Most WACS were based in the US; however there are notable units that travelled across the world in all theatres of war.

Training for these women was intense, basic training lasted approximately 176 hours and consisted of 23 courses, the women learned close order drill, to map reading with a final aptitude test to qualify for service. Once basic training was completed then the WAC could specialise and an option of further training was available and the options here were varied. After three months service the US army offered each WAC the option to apply for Officer Candidate School, a further 246 hours of training over five weeks learning the finer intracises of military organisation.

WACS of course was just one route a women could enlist for during WWII, one could have enrolled within the WAVES (Naval), USMCNR (Marine), SPARS (Coastguard), WASP (Pilots), ARC (Red Cross), PHS (Public Service), NNC (Naval Nurse), ANC (Army Nurse).

Do you re-enact any of these services? Do you have any connection with Veterans mentioned in this article? If so, we would love to hear from you for our magazine.


Wednesday, 27 October 2010

A fantastic event to finish the re-enactment year

Venturing nearly five and a half hours drive from my home near Tunbridge Wells, to attend the North Yorkshire Moors Railway event, held just 20 or so miles west of Scarborough , was well worth it. Held just two weeks ago, was  for me, a fantastic end to the re-enactment season, sure their will be many more dances and village weekends to attend, but as larges scale, closing the town off events go, the town of Pickering plays a perfect host. When I first attended this event a year ago, I was literally blown away at just what went on, re-enactments at the show ground, a parade through the town centre, a railway packed full of entertainment, stations teaming with eager visitors ready to catch a glimpse of the metal warhorses chugging through the stations and when the sun goes down, more dances, pubs and WWII themed entertainment than you can shake a barrage balloon at.

So what happened this year? Well in my opinion this event just got better, the attendance was superb with buses trailing into the park and ride areas, like B17 fortresses taking off to Normandy, dropping their eager cargoes to the event from just out of town, at the showground was non-stop. It's a pity that this area isn't utilised better as the scope here to stage large battles, and a building that could host possibly one of the biggest hanger dances imaginable is unique. However local knowledge informs me that this may not happen for a few years yet.

Venturing into town, it was a pleasure to see every shop had placed the red white and blue bunting across porch ways, and in some circumstances changed their signage.

The crowds that thronged the streets were, well akin to a scene from the victorious Allied forces liberating Holland, I have not been anywhere this friendly for a long time, and no I don't mean the landlords wanting your hard earned, although beer is surprisingly cheap in this neck of the woods and in plentiful supply!

I could not attend every dance event, during the evening as tickets had sold out weeks before and I had heard that eager re-enactors were in some cases turned away. I had the pleasure of being entertained by 4Jas, Normandy 44 and some great new friends in the local pubs and hotel along the high street. Incidentally, if any of you reading this did go to a dance, I would love to see the pictures and hear from you.

So what of the railway? Well, the loco's depart every hour on the hour and the volunteers manning these are just wonderful, be careful when you choose your train, as departing at 11am and 12noon from Pickering to travel towards Whitby can be quite packed, however you can get a great cuppa as you watch the undulating landscape unfold through historic carriage windows.

I stopped off at Levisham station, and for many, the Germans that man/occupy this station have caused consternation within the town for many years, I have it on good authority that this station scenario was created to appease the locals and keep them (the scary Germans) all in one place. WWII was a horrific affair as we all know, and veterans indeed in any town throughout the world that fought the Axis powers, may not want to be reminded of what happened. However we are in the 21st Century and WWII did not start on it's own. I did see some 'escapee' German re-enactors out in the town on the weekend nights and can proudly report that not one incident causing affray was reported! Also the scenarios put on here by the groups Das Reich and the Stahlkriegers, were the most entertaining I witnessed from all the groups I saw, they had the crowds in fits of giggles with their weapons demonstrations and set light to a downed Meschermitt 109 every hour, an impressive shown. Just be sure if you visit next year, you walk up the train to the first four coaches when you arrive as its a short platform!

Whatever your taste in WWII, this is a town you have to visit, the massive street parades, singers, entertainment and sheer goodwill oozes out of this otherwise sleepy town. We shall definitely be back next year.

Friday, 22 October 2010

War and Peace Show - Thank-You Night

If you think of the War & Peace Show, you may think large numbers of tanks, large crowds and impressive displays from very passionate, vehicle owners and re-enactors across, from the far reaching corners of the hobby, what you perhaps don't think, is that this show, being the worlds largest takes some pretty hefty organisation, and the preparation and planning is a 12 month job. Attending the thank-you bash last night, was certainly an eye opener as I didn't quite realise just all the elements involved, sure, you know that an event needs security, parking, booking in and some toilets. But the individuals that ensure this show runs like clockwork are very large in number.

The show is prepared three weeks before a single paying visitor enters and most teams are on site, working hard to ensure that everything is in place for the opening day. This year, this job was made even harder as over 2000 school children were bussed in, to experience a number of talks and demonstrations put on by the show, the educational element here cannot be underestimated and just ferrying these children was indeed a task in itself.

Rex Cadman's speech was evocative and detailed in its delivery, congratulating everyone on the success of the 2010 show,  informing all, of the intricacies of the final event management, which was met with much aplomb. Special mentions were aplenty, and from where I was sitting it was very apparent that everyone involved had done their job, to the best of their ability. Mentions included, Malcolm and his team for ensuring that no children are lost throughout the show, through to Charles ensuring quite camping runs smoothly, it was very evident that this show, runs like a military operation.

The speech was followed by a raft or presentations, where everyone involved that contributed to the show, received a special commemorative War and Peace plaque.

Next years event, is already being planned and very much underway and with 2011 set to be an even bigger and better year than 2010, watch this space.

Full photos will appear shortly on the War and Peace website, links below.


Words & Images : Stuart Humphrey - WWII Re-enactors Magazine